I: The Opening of the Intelligence War

The American and British forces that occupied their sector of Berlin on 4 July 1945 found a city that had been virtually destroyed. Germans everywhere were paying the price for the six years of aggressive war unleashed by their government, but none more so than the citizens of Berlin. The streets were filled with rubble: the destruction wrought by Allied bombers over the winter of 1943-44 had been furthered by the relentless advance of the Soviet Army in March and April 1945.1 Berliners themselves were still reeling from the orgy of pillage, rapine, and murder that had followed the Soviet occupation. Soviet soldiers careened through streets in lend-lease jeeps in search of violence, booty, and liquor. Other Soviet detachments, sent off in pursuit of "reparations," stripped whole industrial districts and sections of the countryside. Kidnappings and sudden, often inexplicable, arrests were regular occurrences. As a result, Berliners often hailed as saviors the first American soldiers entering Berlin to take over the Western half of the city, yet the delineation of occupation zones and the regularization of Allied control mechanisms that occurred over the summer at first could only dampen the prevailing atmosphere of chaos, deprivation, and rampant violence.2 The inevitable friction between the Berlin population and the occupying powers further eroded whatever initial enthusiasm Berliners may have had for the Americans. Not until the Berlin Airlift did some Berliners begin to see the Western occupying forces in a different light.

Late in 1945 the Soviets reined in their marauding troops, but they continued to exhibit a mixture of arrogance and brutality that made them detested as conquerors and lived on to undermine the credibility of the collaborationist East German regime.3 In Berlin, as perhaps nowhere else in Germany, the initial violence of the Soviet occupation permanently shaped popular attitudes toward the occupation forces. Over the next fifty years, Berliners might chafe at the presence of the Western Allies, but the contrast to the arrival of the Soviet forces in 1945 was never forgotten.

The contrast between the attitudes of the occupying powers marked the beginning of Berlin's role as a metaphor for the Cold War division of Europe as a whole. West Berlin itself became a haven for the stream of refugees that poured across the intracity sector boundaries until the Wall went up in 1961. All this only enhanced Berlin's value as a symbol of the United States' determination to maintain a presence on the Continent of Europe. Not incidentally, Berlin's status as an outpost deep inside Soviet-occupied territory and a gateway to and from East Germany made it immensely valuable as an intelligence base. As the lines were drawn in the postwar confrontation that ushered in the Cold War, these symbolic, political, and strategic considerations emerged as factors of permanent importance to US policy toward Berlin, Germany, and Europe.

Among the first Americans to enter Berlin was a detachment of soldiers and civilians assigned to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America's newest intelligence agency. Their presence was transitory: most would soon be demobilized and were looking forward to seeing their homes and families again, while the OSS itself would soon be gone. As a wartime agency, its raison d'être evaporated with the capitulation of Japan on 14 August 1945. On 1 October the agency itself was dissolved and most of its component parts absorbed by the War Department as the Strategic Services Unit (SSU).4

The creation of a postwar civilian intelligence presence in Berlin thus fell mainly to the representatives of the newly constituted SSU. Some had wartime intelligence experience, but many did not. None of them had the kind of background that would prepare them for what they were to face over the next few years in Berlin: as civilian intelligence officers they would quickly discover that the SSU was not a popular organization with other government agencies. The very idea of an intelligence service was an anathema to most Americans, who equated it with the sinister dealings they identified with a police state. Furthermore, the Department of State and the military intelligence services who had resisted the OSS now resented what they regarded as an intrusion into their own spheres of operation. Since it was the military who ran Berlin--with the advice of the State Department--the SSU personnel assigned there found that they had to learn their new trade while they were establishing a niche in the military power structure.

It was far from clear what function the SSU would have in peacetime. Intelligence collection priorities were uncertain in the fluid situation that prevailed in the period immediately after the German surrender. Opinion was divided in the OSS (and later the SSU) between those, like Allen Dulles (Chief of the OSS Mission in Bern during the war), who were concerned about postwar problems dealing with the Soviet Union and others, exemplified by William Casey in Paris, who were more interested in working against the latent centers of financial and industrial power that still existed in even a defeated Germany.5 This level of uncertainty is reflected in the fact that, although Berlin would soon be of pivotal importance for the collection of intelligence against the Soviet Union, there was not even a Russian-speaking intelligence officer present there until 1947.6 Moreover, many American military officers felt that they could deal equitably with their Soviet counterparts in Germany and viewed the presence of an independent, American intelligence organization as symptomatic of the kind of political interference they saw being imposed upon the Soviet military from Moscow.7 Equally important, the US Military Governor in Germany, Gen. Lucius D. Clay, was determined to maintain good relations with his Soviet counterpart, Marshal Georgiy K. Zhukov, and discouraged any activities that he thought might be detrimental to good relations with the Soviet Union.8

Ironically, SSU Berlin's problem of finding a place for itself in the military power structure soon eased considerably because of the actions of the Soviet Union. Zhukov was recalled early in 1946 and replaced by the hardline Marshal Vassiliy D. Sokolovskiy. The Soviets subsequently did everything possible to isolate the Allied garrison in Berlin and cut off any access to potential sources of information within the Eastern bloc.9 American commanders and diplomats in Berlin soon found it necessary to rely on intelligence sources for even the most basic information on Soviet intentions or conditions inside East Germany. Although Clay apparently would have preferred to keep it at arm's length, he found himself increasingly dependent upon his SSU detachment for information. SSU Berlin frequently had to scramble to keep up with what was a rapidly changing situation, but in the process, established the administrative structures and lines of communication that would be in place for the next 50 years.

I-1: Damage to Berlin, 16 December 1943 (No MORI No.) [PDF Only 657KB*]

The transcript of a telephone call from OSS London to Washington, this document has been included to give some indication of the level of damage sustained by Berlin over the course of World War II.

Over the winter of 1943-44, the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command staged an all-out nighttime offensive against Berlin. For much of this period, Bomber Command's night attacks were supplementad by daylight raids carried out by the US 8th Air Force. This recounts the damage inflicted by the end of 1943, at the height of the offensive. Berlin continued to be bombed until it was occupied by Soviet troops at the end of the war. The intense street-fighting between the advancing Soviet forces and the German defenders only inflicted more damage. Eventually the rubble from all this damage was collected in a huge pile in the Grunewald Park, to become the Teufelsberg.

I-2: Report on Berlin Operations Base, 8 April 1948 (MORI No. 144185). [PDF Only 10.89 MB*]

This excerpt from a much larger document chronicles the history of the SSU Detachment in Berlin from January 1946 until the end of 1947, a period in which many of the mechanisms for the collection and dissemination of intelligence were implemented.

The War Department's Strategic Services Unit (SSU) comprised the foreign intelligence and counterintelligence branches of the defunct OSS. In the spring of 1946, the War Department ceded the SSU to the newly created Central Intelligence Group (CIG), which incorporated its overseas operations into the Office of Special Operations that October.

The National Defense Act of 1947 transformed the CIG into the Central Intelligence Agency. OSO was the CIA office responsible for the clandestine collection of intelligence from human sources before 1953. A covert action organization as such did not exist in CIA until the establishment of the Office for Policy Coordination (OPC) on 1 September 1948 (although OSO undertook some covert actions in early 1948).

I-3: Intelligence Disseminations of War Department Detachment, APO 403; 24 October 1946 (MORI No. 145819). [PDF Only 108KB*]

I-4: Targets of German Mission, 10 January 1947 (MORI No. 144270). [PDF Only 148KB*]

I-5: Points for [DCI Vandenberg's] Discussion with General Clay, 16 January 1947 (MORI No. 144271). [PDF Only 141KB*]

I-6: Utilization of the Mass of Soviet Refugees, 19 April 1948 (MORI No. 144243). [PDF Only 348KB*]

I-7: Instructions [for Gen. Lucien K. Truscott], 9 March 1951 (MORI No. 144287). [PDF Only 197KB*]

I-8: Minutes of a Staff Conference in Munich, 26 October 1951 (MORI No. 144289). [PDF Only 321KB*]

Although the role to be played by SSU Berlin (and its successors) was essentially defined by the end of 1947, problems of definition and coordination persisted. These documents lay out some of the parameters defining the CIA's role in Germany. They reflect some of the bureaucratic difficulties the Agency had in establishing itself, as well as the problems experienced in formulating a postwar intelligence policy, given the prevailing tensions and uncertainties.

I-9: SMERSH Department of the Soviet Central Kommandatura, Berlin--Luisenstraße, 19 December 1946 (MORI: No. 46629). [PDF Only 117KB*]

I-10: Reorganization of the RIS [Russian Intelligence Services] in Germany, 11 September 1947 (MORI: No. 144169). [PDF Only 369KB*]

I-11: Memorandum [concerning Gen. Leonid A. Malinin] for the Director, Central Intelligence, ca. 9 December 1947 (MORI: No. 144117). [PDF Only 1.4MB*]

At the end of World War II, the Soviet intelligence and security services began one of their recurrent periods of reorganization and change. This persisted until 1954, when what we know as the KGB finally emerged.

In April 1943, the Soviet intelligence service, the NKGB (People's Commissariat for State Security) had been made independent of the NKVD (Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs). In March 1946, both were raised to the status of ministries to become, respectively, the MVD (Ministry for Internal Affairs) and the MGB (Ministry for State Security). However, in October 1947 the foreign intelligence directorate of the MGB was combined with Soviet military intelligence (GRU) to form the independent Committee of Information (KI). This persisted until the summer of 1948, when the GRU was recreated as a separate agency under the control of the military. In November 1951, KI was reabsorbed by the MGB. On Stalin's death in March 1953, the MGB became part of the MVD, under the control of Lavrenty Beria. In March 1954 the MGB was removed from the control of the MVD and placed under the direct control of the Council Ministers and downgraded to a Committee, becoming the KGB.10

The dramatically named SMERSH (a contraction of the phrase, "Smert Shpionam!"--Death to Spies!) was an independent organization formed by Stalin out of counterintelligence elements of the NKVD in April 1943 and placed under his direct control. Theoretically responsible for counterintelligence operations, SMERSH in fact was Stalin's tool for eliminating "subversion" and collaboration in territories recaptured from the Nazis. After the war, it was primarily engaged in interrogating and executing returning Soviet prisoners of war.11

American intelligence officers confronting the shifting labyrinth of Soviet security services for the first time at the end of World War II had difficulty in keeping track of all this. The Soviet Union was still a mystery to most Americans, and Soviet specialists were virtually nonexistent. The following documents describe early US efforts to understand the organization of the Soviet intelligence services. Interestingly, Document I-11 describes a dinner meeting with Maj. Gen. Leonid A. Malinin, identified as "Deputy to Marshal Sokolovskiy." Actually, Malinin was the KI Rezident (local head of operations) in Berlin and as such responsible for the collection of all foreign intelligence for the Soviets, a fact unknown in the West until after the Cold War was over.12



1 The effects of one air raid are reported in Document I-1.

2 Parrish, Thomas, Berlin in the Balance, 1945-1949: The Blockade, the Airlift, the First Major Crisis of the Cold War. (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1998), p. 52.

3 An analysis of the Soviet occupation may be found in Norman M. Naimark, The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949 (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1995).

4 SSU comprised the Secret Intelligence (SI) Branch--responsible for intelligence collection and the Counterintelligence Branch (X-2). The Research and Analysis Branch of the OSS (R&A) was transferred to the State Department's short-lived Interim Research and Intelligence Service.

5 Stuart E. Eizenstat, et al., US Efforts to Recover and Restore Gold and Other Assets Stolen or Hidden by Germany During World War II (Washington, DC: Department of State, 1997), pp. 39, 41.

6 David E. Murphy, Sergei Kondrashev, and George Bailey, Battleground Berlin, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), p. 20.

7 Jean Edward Smith, Lucius D. Clay: An American Life (New York: Holt, 1990), pp. 261-62; Robert Murphy, Diplomat Among Warriors (New York: Pyramid, 1964), p. 290.

8 Document I-2, Report on Berlin Operations Base, 8 April 1948.

9 David E. Murphy, et al., p. 11.

10 Details of the organizational metamorphoses of the KGB may be found in Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievskiy, KGB: The Inside Story (New York: Harper Collins, 1990), passim.

11 Andrew and Gordievskiy, pp. 342-343.

12 Murphy, et al., pp. 411-414.


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Historical Document
Posted: Apr 19, 2007 07:34 AM
Last Updated: Feb 04, 2014 12:22 PM